Jesus made the crowds welcome and talked to them about the kingdom of God; and he cured those who were in need of healing.
It was late afternoon when the Twelve came to him and said, ‘Send the people away, and they can go to the villages and farms round about to find lodging and food; for we are in a lonely place here.’ He replied, ‘Give them something to eat yourselves.’ But they said, ‘We have no more than five loaves and two fish, unless we are to go ourselves and buy food for all these people.’ For there were about five thousand men. But he said to his disciples, ‘Get them to sit down in parties of about fifty.’ They did so and made them all sit down. Then he took the five loaves and the two fish, raised his eyes to heaven, and said the blessing over them; then he broke them and handed them to his disciples to distribute among the crowd. They all ate as much as they wanted, and when the scraps remaining were collected they filled twelve baskets.Lk 9:11-17
The multiplication of the loaves is the only miracle, besides the Resurrection, that is recorded in all four Gospels. Luke’s account is set at the town of Bethsaida, the hometown of Peter, Philip and Andrew. Bethsaida was somewhat an out of the way place, however when the people heard that Jesus was there they gathered to see him and hear his teaching. Jesus welcomed them, as he always welcomes us, and he opened their eyes, ears and hearts as he preached about the Kingdom of God and “cured those in need of healing.”
Although the disciples want to send the people away, Jesus foreshadows their important role in the early Church, that of nourishing and strengthening the faithful: “give them something to eat yourselves.” Furthermore, by taking, blessing, breaking and giving in verse 16, Jesus not only foreshadows the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper but the Eucharist that we continue to celebrate today. The actions of Jesus in raising his eyes to heaven and blessing the gifts is repeated in each Mass during the Eucharistic Prayer as the priest, in persona Christi, prays: “Father, we bring you these gifts. We ask you make them holy.”
The feeding of the five thousand recalls the similar miracle of multiplication performed by the prophet Elisha (2 Kings 4: 42-44). According to St. Bede (Homilies on the Gospels), the five loaves represent the Torah and the two fish are the Prophets and the Psalms. Jesus is of course the fulfillment of these Old Testament Scriptures, which during his public ministry he will break open, revealing their deeper, spiritual meaning so as to further nourish the multitudes. The twelve baskets of scraps symbolise the twelve disciples through whom Jesus will be able to supply an abundance of spiritual food and nourishment.
Today we have the opportunity to receive an abundance of spiritual food and nourishment by participating in the Eucharistic Liturgy and receiving Holy Communion. Through the Real Presence we receive the living Christ, True God and True Man. We receive, as St Augustine noted, the “Totus Christus” – the total Christ. On this Feast of Corpus Christi, may we remain ever mindful that Jesus is our eternal source of nourishment, he is the “bread of life” (Jn 6:35).
Director, Mission & Identity